When Scarlett Johansson walked the red carpet at the Oscars a few years ago, my jaw dropped when her multi-pierced bejeweled ears winked at me. The punk look had been transformed into a luxurious diamond showstopper. At that moment I thought to myself, whoever created that unique mix is brilliant.
I then started noticing multiple piercings on celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé, Jennifer Aniston and Julianne Moore. Not to mention the celestial and haute punk creations on trendsetters all over Instagram.
Cut to last Friday when I sat with the visionary behind this fashion and cultural phenomenon, Maria Tash. Maria and her team of jewelry stylists are touring Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in collaboration with the Hudson’s Bay Company. You can walk in during store hours and find Maria in the jewelry section on the main floor through Sunday, June 11th at The Bay on Saint-Catherine Street.
Maria began piercing in the 1990’s in a small shop in New York’s East Village. She opened her Broadway Flagship store in 2003 and just signed on for another 15 years.
“When you wake up in the morning, you never think that today Julianne Moore is going to give you a hug. She is very approachable, very beautiful, and very pleasant. Meg Ryan has come in with her adopted Asian daughter to get her ears pierced, and we stretched open Meg’s third piercing. They did it together as a bonding ritual. Uma Thurman came in for her daughter’s birthday.”
There is something primal about getting a piercing. It evokes the sensual, the exotic, or the tribal. It is definitely a personal statement.
“I love the multi-generational bonding. Mothers drop by with their daughters, and their mothers. Her daughter gets her first piercing, she gets her second, and grandma wants to pay for the whole thing. It’s a rite of passage.” With that statement Maria tears up. “People give the celebrities a lot of attention, but sometimes people get piercings because they just broke up with someone. Or it’s a bonding experience with someone new. Sometimes we do beautiful piercings next to a scar. We did a piercing for a woman who had just had open heart surgery so it was part of the journey for her. It is a feminist expression, rooted in ritual and bonding. I am honored to be a part of that. I have re-pierced my 90 year old mother’s ears, and it means a lot, especially when you are that close to someone.”
Maria’s fine jewelry and piercings have revitalized London’s Liberty department store. Her life is spent running her business which she says is her proudest achievement. Part of that means deciding between enticing offers from international retailers and evaluating which are right for her brand. She investigates local laws and taxes carefully before jumping in. She also has other deals in the works that I can’t share yet, but be prepared to see her name everywhere.
Each earring ranges in price from $135.00 Canadian to several thousand. You can find everything from elaborate exotic hoops, to princess cut diamonds, bats and handcuffs, to flowers, moons, butterflies and stars. Did you know there are 23 places on your ear that you can pierce?
“Our stylists can help you design your look. We take into account your skin tone and your personal style. We place the earrings on plastic ears so you see the look first.” The London Liberty team refitted all of Scarlett’s piercings.
A single piercing costs $15.00. I remember getting my ears pierced for the first time as a teenager and the pain that followed for weeks.
“Just look at the name, a gun. No wonder it was painful”.
Maria uses a very sharp thin needle so I didn’t feel any pain as she reopened my second piercing. I was reassured by the care that she and Ashley took to sterilize the needle and my new diamond studs.
“We are very careful with where the needle exits to ensure your hoops won’t stick out the wrong way. My style is forward-facing which means we stand in front of you to draw the hole on the front and back of the ear.”
Maria prides herself on designing resilient, yet delicate, and comfortable earrings you never have to remove. “You can sleep in them, or workout in them. We use the best quality metals with very little nickel which reduces the risk of allergic reactions.” Maria recommends saline solution to clean your ears. “Rubbing alcohol is harsh and it dries out your skin”. I didn’t need to use either. “Our jewelry has special hinges and they are thin enough so you can take them out for a time, and not have to re-pierce your ears when you put them back in.”
As a child, Maria would play dress-up in her mother’s jewelry. “In college I bought a piercing gun. I would pierce my ears, and my friend’s ears.” Maria studied design at the Fashion Institute in New York. “I would go to the library to look at African and Indian women’s jewelry, especially the Indian weddings; I loved all the elaborate styles. I started collecting vintage ruby, emerald, and pearl nose jewelry. I was attracted to the sparkle.”
One of the perks of working with Maria is the travel. She brings her highly trained stylists from New York and London with her everywhere. Chatting with them was a highlight of the experience.
“Many women request 5-6 piercings at a time” Maria says of the women she’s met in India, Hong Kong, and Dubai. She is invited all over the world to hold pop-up shops. “Women wearing burkas cover everything except their eyes, but underneath, their ears are covered in jewelry.”
Maria is a down to earth, cool, powerhouse. I asked her if she thinks there is an age limit for piercings. “It’s a shame to even think like that. The average age for our clients at Liberty is 42. Women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s have the means to do what they want. They don’t have to ask for permission. Maybe it’s my age, I’m 48 by the way, but I don’t think like that. Maybe it’s a Manhattan woman thing.”
Get a piercing by Maria Tash and shop her fine jewelry at Hudson’s Bay on Saint-Catherine Street June 1st-11th. You can drop in during store hours, or feel free to book an appointment at www.mariata.sh.
Shop Maria Tash Venus jewelry at www.venusbymariatash.com.